Updated: May 23, 2020
I had just moved back to Chicago from the West Coast. We were in the midst of fall, and I wasn't super stoked about winter lurking just around the corner. This was going to take some getting used to. I found myself at a Chicago Wolves hockey game last minute, straight from work one night. In-between periods, Chicago Animal Care & Control brought some dogs in need of warm homes out on the cold ice.
I was in fact in the market for dog. I was an avid runner at the time, and the crime rate in my area was disturbing. I grew up with my grandparents' German Shepherds and my father's Dobermans. I've always wanted a big dog that would protect me as much as it would provide much-needed companionship. But I was broke. And broken.
As we made our way out of the stands after the game, I told my friend we would not be visiting the adoption booth because it would break my heart not to take a rescue home. As we walked past the dogs, the color of this little Shepherd mix caught my eye, stopping me dead in my tracks. He was beyond beautiful, and reminded me of my father’s long-passed and adored Red Doberman. I sat down on the floor to say hello to this skittish, skinny guy. “Rocco” came right up to me and hunkered down in my lap. The crew were in shock; he had never approached anyone like that before. As I held him I could see that his ears were edged in painful scabs and his ribs were showing. A hot mess myself back then, I couldn’t really take care of this slight, needy creature, could I.
I told them I had to first find out if my landlord would even let me have a dog, and they assured me that they would keep him until the following day. Who was I trying to kid - I wouldn't be heading downtown in the morning. I left and silently strode to the parking lot, knowing I’d probably never see that kid again. I climbed in the car and sat still for a second. Then something down deep told me that mutt and I were supposed to be together. I jumped out of the car, and I ran like hell back into the stadium.
I didn’t want anyone else to take my dog home.
On the way home I stopped at Jewel and picked up some puppy kibble and a stuffed animal for a dog toy. We still have the decapitated black lab. When I got to my apartment I brought this new bundle of anxiety up through the stairwell, praying that no one would see us in the event that I couldn't keep him. We both nervously entered my pad, and he followed me into the bedroom as I put my jacket away. And for what felt like eternity, we just stared at each other as if to say "holy shit, what have we done..."
Duke now had a forever home. It remains the best $65 I ever spent.
Duke and I have been through more than I can tell you. He has lived in the mountains and the city. He's been a desert dog. And survived LA. He has seen more historical sights and traveled to more states than most humans. He's had a dad or two, and I know who his favorite was. (I think Duke just gave up hope that he would return from Texas.) After we headed back East, Duke got to spend time with his "Papa" in Chicago. It was such a joy to be able to share him with my dad in the years prior to his death. Daddy loved having a big dog around.
Duke has been the only constant in my life all these years. When I left Las Vegas to get my shit together, Duke stayed behind. "You should really give him away" they said.
I was never giving him away if I didn't have to. I made him a promise the day I took him home to that Southside apartment (that didn't allow dogs after all) that I was going to take care of him. I don't know if he was abused or why he was discarded, but I knew it was my responsibility to give him a good life.
Duke helped me keep my eye on the prize. I had a goal to get him home with me. When I emerged from my metamorphosis, he was there to help me soar. To protect me and love me unconditionally. I still look him in the eye and say "You and me, kid. We got this." This kid saved me.
Every day is Rescue Day in our house.